Leeds stopped from reaching its potential by over-centralised government, says Baroness Judith Blake in maiden Lords speech

Leeds has been held back from realising its true potential by the over-centralisation of government in England, the city council's former leader has claimed in her maiden speech as a member of the House of Lords.

Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 2:24 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 2:26 pm

Baroness Judith Blake told her fellow peers that Yorkshire's biggest city could have achieved so much more in its response to the pandemic "if the necessary powers and resource had been devolved down to a local level".

Lady Blake, who served as Labour leader of Leeds city council for six years, joined the red benches in the House of Lords in March. Her daughter, Olivia Blake, has been Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam since 2019.

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Baroness Judith Blake told her fellow peers that Yorkshire's biggest city could have achieved so much more in its response to the pandemic "if the necessary powers and resource had been devolved down to a local level". Pic Simon Hulme

The Labour peer, responding to the Queen's Speech which promised to push forward Boris Johnson's "levelling up" agenda, said there was a "great opportunity" for places like Leeds if government policy "allows places to take charge of the necessary programmes of work".

She said: "Leeds has achieved much success over recent years but has been held back from realising its true potential by the over-centralisation of government in England."

Lady Blake, who first became a city councillor in 1996, said much of her time as leader was working with other West Yorkshire politicians on devolution of powers from central government.

A £1.8bn devolution deal was signed last March and this week Tracy Brabin was elected as West Yorkshire's first metro mayor.

The peer said: "There is now consensus about the growing scale of spatial inequality in the UK.

"We need a mature debate on how we are going to address the imbalance in the economy - followed by a clear plan of action owned across the political spectrum, by all different sectors and crucially empowering local and regional devolved administrations.

"We urgently need to address the low productivity of our towns and cities outside of London – and better understand the cause.

"Estimates suggest that if our Core Cities alone performed at the levels of similar cities internationally, it would add over £100bn to our economy."

Lady Blake said she listened with interest to the Queen's Speech, in which the Government vowed to level up glaring regional inequalities across the nation which have been accentuated by the coronavirus crisis a

And she said: "The response of so many people across our country has been phenomenal. The city council in Leeds along with town halls across the country rose to the challenge magnificently and our gratitude to our frontline workers and NHS staff knows no bounds.

"However, the whole sector has been left with the knowledge that so much more could have been achieved if the necessary powers and resource had been devolved down to a local level.

"We have a great opportunity if proposed legislation addresses this and the ‘levelling up’ agenda of the recovery allows places to take charge of the necessary programmes of work.

"Covid 19 has exposed vulnerability in the cruellest way. It is no accident that those communities suffering the highest levels of health inequalities, poverty and overcrowded housing have suffered the worst during the pandemic.

"All these factors must be addressed if we are to achieve the economic recovery we need – bringing benefit to everyone wherever they live and whatever their backgrounds."